By Dana Malcolm
May 27, 2022 – Weak US gun laws are wreaking havoc on the Caribbean islands. No Caribbean country is a major arms exporter, importer or manufacturer, but Magnetic Media’s special series points out that gun crime in the Caribbean has seen a startling increase over the past three decades and the international police (INTERPOL) claim that 70% of all murders in the Caribbean are carried out with a firearm.
The disturbing statistics raise the question of where these weapons are made and, more importantly, how they arrive on Caribbean shores.
Most guns in the Caribbean used in crimes start out as perfectly legal weapons.
The world’s largest exporter of firearms is the United States of America, which accounted for 37% of all firearms on the international market between 2016 and 2020; only one percent less than the other 4 major exporters combined.
The country has consistently produced over 8.9 million firearms a year since 2008 and 2016 marked the highest year with 11.5 million guns manufactured on US soil according to a Center for American Progress report. (CAP).
Also, the process to become an arms manufacturer in the United States is quite smooth.
“There are no substantive requirements to be qualified as a weapons manufacturer: candidates must be over 21 years old, be licensed to possess firearms under federal law, and not have willfully violated any federal gun laws or regulations,” CAP says.
Firearms manufacturing is a growing business, 255% more saturated in 2018 than it was in 2009.
The problem is that these legally manufactured weapons have begun to flood into the Caribbean at alarming rates, often from the United States. There is no national gun registry linking guns to owners in the United States. In fact, federal law specifically prohibits it, which means that after the initial purchase, they may just…disappear.
And like a sinister magic trick, many of them appear in the Caribbean and are used to commit crimes before falling into the hands of the police. Five Caribbean countries are among the 25 countries with the highest homicide rates in the region. Four of them are listed in the top five Caribbean destinations for the illegal importation of US weapons.
In 2020, Jamaica, the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago, and Haiti asked the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives to trace a total of 1,136 seized firearms by their various police forces.
Seventy percent or 804 weapons came from the United States. Of the 804, 59% or 477 could be attributed to a retail buyer in the United States.
The ease with which guns are purchased in the United States of America makes them a common commodity and facilitates the lucrative illegal gun trade out of the country, the loot of which leaks into the Caribbean.
CARICOM insists the United States must take the threat to life in the Caribbean seriously, saying, “While the region respects the rights of other states to establish liberal policies regarding access to firearms , the negative impacts of these policies on arms are not limited to their borders. They have very serious consequences for other countries, including the Caribbean countries, Mexico and the Central American states.
CARICOM has designated transnational organized crime or the trafficking of illicit drugs and illegal weapons as a Level 1 crime, describing it as an immediate and significant threat to the region.
Without strong gun laws in the country of origin, stemming the flow of illegal weapons falls on regional authorities in the Caribbean and proves too much to bear.